The postwar photographs that British authorities tried to keep hidden | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited
· Treatment of suspected communists revealed
· Four court martialled after police inspector's inquiry
Monday April 3, 2006
Archive pictures of German prisoners held by the British following the second world war
Archive pictures of German prisoners held by the British following the second world war. Photographs: Martin Argles
For almost 60 years, the evidence of Britain's clandestine torture programme in postwar Germany has lain hidden in the government's files. Harrowing photographs of young men who had survived being systematically starved, as well as beaten, deprived of sleep and exposed to extreme cold, were considered too shocking to be seen.
As one minister of the day wrote, as few people as possible should be aware that British authorities had treated prisoners "in a manner reminiscent of the German concentration camps".
Many other photographs known to have been taken have vanished from the archives, and even this year some government officials were arguing that none should be published.
The pictures show suspected communists who were tortured in an attempt to gather information about Soviet military intentions and intelligence methods at a time when some British officials were convinced that a third world war was only months away.
Others interrogated at the same prison, at Bad Nenndorf, near Hanover, included Nazis, prominent German industrialists of the Hitler era, and former members of the SS.
At least two men suspected of being communists were starved to death, at least one was beaten to death, others suffered serious illness or injuries, and many lost toes to frostbite.
The appalling treatment of the 372 men and 44 women who were interrogated at Bad Nenndorf between 1945 and 1947 are detailed in a report by a Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Tom Hayward. He had been called in by senior army officers to investigate the mistreatment of inmates, partly as a result of the evidence provided by these photographs.
Insp Hayward's report remained secret until last December, when the Guardian secured its release under the Freedom of Information Act. The photographs seen here were removed before the Foreign Office released the report, apparently because the Ministry of Defence did not wish them to be published. That decision was reversed last week, following an appeal by the Guardian.